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Is it better being married or single? A fresh controversy lays bare the anxieties that still persist

Are women who never marry happier than those who put a ring on it?

British behavioural scientist Paul Dolan ignited a firestorm of controversy recently when he claimed that wives are “miserable,” while women who opt out of marriage and kids lead much better lives. Dolan suggested that while marriage makes men happier and healthier, the opposite is true for wives: “If you’re a man, you should probably get married; if you’re a woman, don’t bother,” he told the crowd at the Hay literature festival in Wales in May.

Dolan, who included these ideas in his new book Happy Ever After: Escaping the Myth of the Perfect Life, was forced to walk back some of the claims after American economist Gray Kimbrough found they were based on a flawed analysis of the American Time Use Survey. The study reported that married women were actually a touch happier than unmarried women with no kids at home, although the figures were close.

Even so, Dolan’s comments provoked heated debate. On one side of the battlefield, proponents of the traditional family, and on the other, advocates for singles, with one female columnist urging women to save themselves and join a marriage strike.

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